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Timberland Feasibility Study Makes Compelling Case for Bringing Cotton Farming Back to Haiti

Image credit: Solidaridad

A new feasibility study entitled Cotton: Export Market Potential for Smallholder Farmers in Haiti makes a case for reintroducing a crop that was once the country’s fourth-largest agricultural export, but which collapsed nearly 30 years ago through a combination of politics and policies. Now, the study - commissioned by the nonprofit Impact Farming, and sponsored by the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) and global outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland - shows that cotton can provide a new model to reconnect small-scale Haitian farmers to the global economy.

Key factors include ideal growing conditions, considerable farmer interest and knowledge of next-generation agricultural best practices, gleaned from smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia. The study recommends reintroducing cotton with a comprehensive support system and range of services that were not in place when the crop previously failed. By positioning cotton as a rotational crop in mixed farms that include vegetables, grain and livestock, the resulting agricultural benefits will extend beyond that of a single crop. Additionally, the SFA system designed for farmers to access this support system and services by planting trees will extend benefits further to combating climate change.

The impetus for the study was a five-year partnership between Timberland and SFA that created a model in which Haitian farmers voluntarily tend to a network of nurseries that produce up to one million moringa and lime trees annually. In return for their efforts, the farmers receive training, crop seeds, seedlings and tools that help restore tree cover and increase the farmers’ own crop yields. To date, this business model has resulted in planting nearly six million trees and helped 3,200 farmers increase productivity on their farmlands by an average of 40 percent resulting in increased household income of 50 percent, on average. The program has also increased access to education and healthcare, including an estimated 3,400 additional children of SFA members placed in school.

“Over the past five years, we’ve been proud to partner with SFA to turn a simple tree-planting initiative into a sustainable business model for smallholder farmers,” said Colleen Vien, director of sustainability for Timberland. “Our hope in sponsoring this study is that we can take steps to transition from being an early supporter of smallholder farmers in Haiti, to potentially being a customer, purchasing cotton for our own supply chain.

The cotton study also uncovered the need to help connect smallholder farmers growing export crops with overseas markets, setting the stage for Impact Farming and SFA’s plans to launch a new for-profit export, marketing and finance company dedicated to smallholder exports. The resulting public/private partnership, called the Haiti Impact Alliance (HIA), is being developed with the Initiative for Smallholder Finance to replace the traditional agricultural supply chain with a wholesale export operation that will emerge as a new type of smallholder social enterprise with implications beyond the borders of Haiti.

“Smallholder farmers hold the key to achieving food security and combating climate change in Haiti, and we see cotton as central to unleashing their potential,” said Hugh Locke, president of the SFA and Impact Farming. “In addition to resulting in significant numbers of trees being planted, the new Haiti Impact Alliance will provide farmers with first stage processing capacity, improved infrastructure, increased export and marketing opportunities, efficient data management, access to farm financing and specialized agricultural research in cotton and other export crops.”


Talia Rudee lives in Seattle with a passion for sustainability, triathlon, and desserts. She has a BA in Environmental Sociology from Whitman College and is currently working toward an MBA in Sustainable Systems at Presidio Graduate School, Seattle campus. As… [Read more about Talia Rudee]